Upon the start of this season’s training camp, the San Antonio Spurs will generate a handful of captivating storylines to consider.
The wait is finally over – San Antonio Spurs preseason kicks off on Saturday evening as the silver and black hosts a budding Orlando Magic group looking to make a statement. After weeks of voluntary workouts, the entire squad is reunited to prepare for the coming year and establish chemistry between new teammates.
Now that a refreshed Gregg Popovich has gathered his troops, San Antonio can prep for what’s sure to be a competitive and exciting year. As all of the teams around them transformed their rosters and comprised new lineups, the Spurs return their fallen point guard in Dejounte Murray while integrating two new forwards: DeMarre Carroll and Trey Lyles.
As training camp takes place and each player uses the opportunity to show off new tricks, storylines tend to emerge. Last year, murmurs of breakout campaigns from both Murray and guard Bryn Forbes spread rampantly throughout the fan base. While we didn’t get to see the full extent of Murray’s improvements, Forbes lived up to the hype and became a full-time starter in the process.
San Antonio doesn’t allow too much to leak from its training camp, as the Spurs have always preferred to fly under the radar, but certain storylines are too prominent to go unrecognized. Over the course of the next three weeks leading up to the start of the 2019 NBA season, this group will reconfigure its identity while reestablishing the chemistry that surged this team to Game Seven against the No. 2 seed only six months ago.
Players will be asked to leave their comfort zones for the greater good of the team, aligning themselves within Popovich’s system while shedding egos and working for the greater good of the team.
For as much doubt as they’ll receive from the national media, as they have for many years prior, the Spurs will find new ways to dig their way back into the playoff picture come April and May.
Next: Dejounte and Lonnie force the Spurs to pick up pace
Dejounte and Lonnie force the Spurs to pick up pace
In the 2018-19 regular season, the Spurs ranked No. 22 of 30 in terms of pace at 98.89. Of the 16 teams to reach the playoffs last year, San Antonio was eleventh in terms of pace and dropped to dead-last once the postseason came around.
Part of Spurs basketball is taking your time to set up efficient, high-quality shots regardless of how long it takes to do so. The 2014 championship team was similarly slow, clocking in at roughly the same pace in the postseason en route to the organization’s fifth championship title.
With that said, times are changing and so is the Spurs’ roster construction. Instead of relying on careful veterans to do all of the work, San Antonio has a group of spirited young players integrated alongside those vets to instill energy while preparing for the next generation of Spurs basketball. A major part of this is the implementation of athletic specimen Lonnie Walker IV, as well as the previously-mentioned Murray.
— Spurs Nation (@Spurs_Nation) September 30, 2019
When asked at Spurs Media Day if the team would be running more with Dejounte in the lineup, star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan provided a simple answer: “All I know is Dejounte [is] fast as hell so we’re not going to have a choice.”
With fresh legs and a healed knee, Murray is going to take matters into his own hands for the Spurs this season. Whether it be in the half court or on the fastbreak, Murray is sure to zoom up the court to draw defenders at every opportunity. The same can be said for sophomore standout Lonnie Walker IV, whose role in the Spurs’ rotation is yet to be determined.
Combined with the speedy nature of Derrick White and Forbes, the veterans will be forced to pick up the pace and push the tempo this season if they want to live up to the standard set for them by the team’s youth. This is untraditional for guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay, who’re known to play at their own pace, but it’s an adjustment that can help this unit in the long run.
Next: Non-shooters get comfortable taking jumpers
Non-shooters get comfortable taking jumpers
San Antonio’s stars aren’t known for spacing the floor out, but that is subject to change in the coming season. Popovich noted a while back that he’d expect DeRozan to shoot more threes with the team in this coming season, although not much has been said on the topic since.
Still, it’s encouraging that DeRozan showed no hesitance to pull up from deep during offseason workouts and in videos posted throughout the Summer. To make up for the absence of Latvian sharpshooter Davis Bertans and the staggered minutes that Forbes, White and Gay will deal with as a byproduct of enhanced depth, non-shooters are going to need to shoot.
No one is expecting DeRozan and Aldridge to redefine themselves and become lights-out shooters all of the sudden, but it would be exciting to see them shoot the longball confidently through training camp and preseason in an attempt to throw off opposing defenders. After a full year where the duo shot an average of 1.1 threes per game in the regular season, improved floor spacing and a larger sample size of triples could be key to the team’s success.
The Spurs shot the best percentage from three of any team last year at a 39.2 percent clip – a number that many would consider unsustainable. However, Popovich’s system is crafted so that the quality of these shots is better than that of most players on other teams. If the Spurs start running sneaky plays to get open triples for their non-shooters, they can initiate some exciting runs for themselves to open up the offense.
This is far from a guarantee, and may even be a longshot, but it’s not totally out of the question and would garner a lot of excitement from San Antonio’s fervent fan base.
Next: The rookie class stands out amongst the pack
The rookie class stands out amongst the pack
Before passing his role of general manager to Brian Wright, Spurs Sports and Entertainment CEO R.C. Buford selected diamonds in the rough of what projects to be a loaded draft class. The trio of Luka Samanic, Keldon Johnson and Quinndary Weatherspoon each showcased legitimate NBA-level skills in the Summer League while displaying one intrinsic quality that stands above all else: heart.
As training camp begins and the young guys get acclimated to the Spurs way, it’d be unsurprising for this trio to come out and leave everything they’ve got on the practice court against their more experienced cohorts.
Starting with Samanic, whose 6-foot-11, lanky frame needs to fill out before going anywhere near an NBA court during meaningful minutes, has a bag full of tricks to pull out on his teammates. For a player of his size, Samanic has plenty of guard-like abilities and the ball handling skills to match. It’s hard to imagine him carving out a role for himself this early on, but Samanic has the capability to surprise a lot of people – his teammates included.
The same can be said of Johnson, who I anticipate will stand out the most of the three. His relentless playstyle and physical nature name him a difficult matchup for any players at positions 1-through-3. At 6-foot-6, Johnson entered the draft with a strong frame already for a player of his size and could very easily be the most NBA-ready rookie this team has had in quite some time.
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Rumblings could very easily emerge regarding Johnson’s work ethic, attitude, fit within team culture and commitment to his growth.
Last, but certainly not least, is Weatherspoon, who many Spurs fans basked at upon his selection in the second round. The 23-year-old quickly put his haters to rest with an exceptional showing through Summer League for his quick trigger, strong decision-making and imposing perimeter defense.
As the trio competes against All-Stars, rising stars and veteran role players alike, they’re sure to turn a few heads and pose the question “Why can’t us young guys earn our spots in the rotation yet?”
No, this probably won’t result in actual minutes once the regular season rolls around, but it’s exciting to know that these blossoming prospects are getting right to work alongside the exceptional role models around them in the Alamo City.